Climbing this fella at the end of a race?
Sounds like a good idea! – I thought, so I registered for GFNY Mont Ventoux.
The preamble before tackling Mont Ventoux, “le géant de la Provence”, is a beautiful hilly 114km course, allowing you to enjoy the fantastic scenery of the Provence if you are so inclined (i.e. not staring at the wheel of the person in front or your Garmin haha).
There were some really great prizes to win so I expected a strong field, but I also knew that the race format perfectly suited my strengths, so I didn’t lose confidence even when they announced the “record woman” Betty Kals (record holder of Mt Ventoux climbs in 24h).
Anyway, I arrived in Vaison on Saturday after a slightly adventurous journey in which, again, I had to rely on the generosity of a friend to reach the final destination (thanks Matthias!!). I had my compulsory pre-race puncture, searched the tire for stones, didn’t find anything, got desperate, changed the inner tube, used up my CO2, went to the mechanics at the expo, had another puncture, didn’t find anything either… Well, fantastic… But somehow bad luck on Saturday seems to mean good luck on Sunday for me and so it was.
The race went simply perfect. I woke up at 4:45am, feeling great, it was pleasantly warm so no problem with standing around at the start line a bit longer. I was there before 6:30am and lined up just behind the “VIP” corral. One hour later we set off, I had Betty Kals in sight, but the pace was surprisingly mild and I wasn’t even working very hard on the small climbs (a surprise for me!).
The first slightly longer hill separated the peloton – a relief, it makes the ride safer to be in a small group. I managed to stay close to the front even without hurting like hell, somehow my legs were unusually fresh today. Betty seemed to have fallen back right at the beginning of the climb. Was she even more of a diesel than me?
We were a bunch of about 14 people, the second group after the leading one if I am not mistaken. We continued together, climbing fast, but it was (almost ;) ) comfortable suffering and I was not hanging on for dear life. With Col de l’homme mort at 57km we reached the highest point of the race before the climb of Mont Ventoux. From then on it was mainly descent – fast roads but our group didn’t really want to work together and while I had stayed at the back during the climbs to save energy it was now me together with only few men pulling the group on the beautiful roads winding through the Gorges de la Nesque.
I had run out of water at the Col de l’homme mort; unfortunately our group didn’t stop at the food stations. Not ideal given the rising temperature and the long climb that still awaited us. At km100 after close to 3h I finally stopped to fill my empty bottles. I reckoned it was better to lose the group than to confront the “giant” in an already dehydrated state.
So after my stop I continued alone, ate and drank and put out good watts without too much effort. A guy from our group who had apparently stopped as well overtook me and I continued on his wheel, I tried to take a turn at the front but it was too hard an effort just before the big climb.
Quickly we reached the turn towards Mont Ventoux where the KOM time-trial section would start. Let the party begin ;) . I continued the first few flat kilometers on the wheel of the guy (thanks!!) and then as the climb got steeper settled into my own pace. In the beginning I felt good but it was obvious that the >3h racing before had taken its toll and that the remaining 1500m of climbing wouldn’t be a piece of cake. But this had been clear from the beginning; the last ~80min of the race would be about squeezing out every last bit of energy from the body without dying before the finish line.
The first 20min or so passed, the going was getting tougher, I compared my feelings to the Großglockner race in Austria (20km, 1618m) and was a bit worried since I was hurting much earlier… But I was overtaking many people, a few from my original group; the remainder from the short course (there were not many people from the long course in front ;) ). This motivated me, together with the fear that Betty Kals might be a super-diesel climber and chase me down. The watts were declining a bit, but to a certain extent this is the normal influence of altitude.
The road continued rising mercilessly through the bleak landscape and I was hurting. Everyone was. But I was still overtaking people from both courses. Not a single person overtook me during the whole climb. I knew I was a bit low on energy (due to the gap in water supply I had had before the climb) and took a gel, for a horrible 5min I only did 185w (alt. 1655m)!
I kept staring at the station on top of the mountain; the smell of victory motivated me to continue pushing hard. The watts rose close to 200w again, which is ok at this altitude, and after a seemingly endless time I was in the final bend, an amazing experience. I tried to stand up and sprint but almost lost my balance, so I just pushed as hard as I could, having in mind that right now I could lose the 1sec for the QOM ;) .
After crossing the line I was dead and high and happy. I was really low on energy and drank and ate immediately (what a great idea to serve dates at the food station! :) ), until the race director and someone from the media wanted to talk to me. “Si, j’ai fait le grand parcours!” (=”Yes, I did the long course”) – I had to tell them a couple of times. They had expected Betty Kals, not some stranger, to arrive as the first woman. Funnily enough, I had also arrived before the first woman of the short course.
Of course I was over the moon with joy. Everything had gone perfectly and I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw the results on paper: With a time of 4:34h (29.8km/h) I had not only distanced Betty by over 43min, I had also come 12th overall out of 378 finishers and over 650 starters (the heat had taken its toll…) and lost less than 20min on the men’s winner Alexis Carlier (congrats!). On the QOM section only 13 men of both(!) courses were faster than me.
Well, I’ve already said that I was over the moon, and after getting a 3000€ worth of presents at the ceremony I was even more over the moon ;) . Thanks GFNY!
And I didn’t even have to spend the night in the Théâtre Antique de Vaison after missing the only bus that would have taken me to the next train station (Merci Vincent!) ;)